Petite, sed non accipietis, quia petistis.
The following document, which does honour and justice to its writer, J. Basson Humffray, to 4500 of our fellow-miners of Ballaarat, who signed it, to the state prisoners themselves, is now here transcribed as necessary to the purpose of this book.
THE BALLAARAT DELEGATES, AND THEIR INTERVIEW WITH HIS EXCELLENCY SIR CHARLES HOTHAM, K.C.B., &c.
The public has already seen the written reply of His Excellency to the petition from Ballaarat, signed by nearly 4500 of the inhabitants of that important, but “officially” ridden place.
We deem it our duty to the public, and especially to those whose delegates we are, to state the main reasons urged by us for a general amnesty, and to make some general remarks thereon, and also upon the reply. We have delayed doing this, as we expected to have returned immediately to Ballaarat, and we did not wish to forestall our intended statement at a public meeting, which would have been held on our return; but as circumstances interfere with this arrangement, we now give our report.
We were very kindly and respectfully received by His Excellency.
We thought it right to state that we repudiated physical force as a means of obtaining constitutional redress, believing that the British constitution had sufficient natural elasticity to adapt itself to the wants of the age, and would yield under proper pressure. But the arming of the diggers of Ballaarat, however reprehensible it might have been in itself, claims to be judged on special grounds, inasmuch as they had special provocation. The diggers of Ballaarat were attacked by a military body under the command of civil (!) officers, for the production of licence-papers, and, if they refused to be arrested, deliberately shot at. The diggers did not take up arms, properly speaking, against the government, but to defend themselves against the bayonets, bullets, and swords of the insolent officials in their unconstitutional attack, who were a class that would disgrace any government, by their mal-administration of the law.
The diggers did not take up arms against British rule, but against the mis-rule of those who were paid to administer the law properly; and however foolish their conduct might be, it was an ungenerous libel on the part of one of the military officers to designate outraged British subjects as “foreign anarchists and armed ruffians.”
The diggers were goaded on to take the stand they did by the “digger-hunt,” of the 30th November, which, we are sustained in saying, was a base piece of gold and silver lace revenge. Facts will no doubt appear by-and-bye, elucidating and confirming this statement.
We reminded His Excellency of the fact, that the public had asked for or sanctioned a general amnesty; and although we were prepared to admit that it was unbecoming the dignity of any government to give way to what was termed “popular clamour,” yet, in this case, the good and the wise amongst all classes, forming a very large proportion of the inhabitants, had asked for it, and we thought the general wish should not be lightly treated. His Excellency observed, “Certainly not.” We argued that an amnesty would restore general confidence, and secure support to the government in any emergency; and, even supposing there was any one in the movement who sought to overturn the government, instead of overturning corruption, and establishing a better system of administration, a general amnesty would silence such, as the great majority of the diggers were content to live under British law, if properly administered; and every one knows there has been much to condemn in the administration of the laws, on the Ballaarat gold-fields especially; and we endeavoured to impress upon the mind of the Lieutenant-Governor, that it was equally true that the majority of those who were proud of being British subjects, were growing tired of waiting for simple justice. And if the executive wish to secure their confidence and support, they must give better evidence of their good intentions of making better laws, or laws better suited to the wants of the people, and securing “equal justice to all.” Their recent conduct has created disaffection amongst the ranks of the best disposed; in fact, those who disapproved of the resort to arms on the part of the diggers, condemn in the most unqualified manner the conduct of the Ballaarat officials in collecting a tax (obnoxious at the best) at the bayonet’s point, and of the late Colonial Secretary, who could unblushingly write to Commissioner Rede (who superintended the digger-hunt on the 30th November, and, no doubt, counselled the Sunday morning’s butchery), thanking him for his conduct on those occasions! And that if His Excellency would allow us to strip the matter of its official colouring, he would see things in a very different light than they had been officially represented.
That an amnesty would not only secure the confidence of the people in the Governor, but it would show the confidence of the Governor in the people — it would be looked upon as a proof of the strength and vigour of the British constitution, instead of weakness in those that administer the laws under its guidance.
That His Excellency could well afford to be generous.
That, in asking for an amnesty, we were aware it was asking for much, and what a statesman should not do without due deliberation. But at the same time, we submitted we did not ask anything inconsistent with the true interests of the colony, or derogatory to the dignity and honour of the throne itself.
That a general amnesty to the state prisoners would tend much to consolidate the power of the British government in this colony, and show that the representative of Majesty here can afford to be just — to be generous; with the full confidence that such an act would meet with the full concurrence of the Queen of England, and the approbation of the whole British empire. That in this he would act wiser far in listening to the voice of the people than to the short-sighted counsel of the law-advisers of the Crown. Humanity has higher claims than the mere demands and formalities of human law.
We forbear saying all that might be said as to the spies being sent from the Camp to enrol themselves amongst the insurgents, and who, report says, urged them to attack the Camp, which was repudiated by the diggers — they saying they would act upon the defensive.
That we believed the enforcement of the law in this case would have the most pernicious effect, not only upon the commerce of the colony, but would retard, if not prevent, the accomplishment of those schemes of reform that His Excellency had promised.
That if he valued the good opinions of the people — the peace and prosperity of the colony, he would be giving the best evidence of it by granting the amnesty we prayed for; but that, if His Excellency punished these men, it would be calling into existence an agitation which would, we feared, end in civil commotion, if not in the disseverance of the colony from the mother country.
That we thought there were reasons sufficiently important to justify an amnesty, on the grounds of state policy alone.
But even supposing there were no legitimate grounds for an amnesty, and that the government have been right in all that they have done — which would be saying what facts do not warrant — surely the slaughter of some fifty people is blood enough to expiate far greater crimes than the diggers of Ballaarat have been guilty of, without seeking the lives of thirteen more victims. The government would act wisely in not pursuing so suicidal a course.
His Excellency states, in his written reply, that the diggers, notwithstanding his promise of inquiry into all their grievances, had forestalled all inquiry.
On this head, we would wish to remark, that the fault lies at the door of the government, in prostituting the military, by making them tax collectors, and placing them at the disposal of a few vain officials, who were not over-stocked with brains, and ignorant of the functions of constitutional government. But one fact they seemed fully sensible of, viz.: That “Othello occupation” would indeed soon “be gone,” and they were determined to “crush the scoundrels” who dared to question the policy, or even justice, or a government keeping up such an expensive army of La Trobian idlers as strut about in borrowed plumes with all the insolence of office; who, in fact, have proved themselves, with a few honourable exceptions, fit for little else than bringing the colony into debt; creating disaffection amongst the people, and stamping indelible disgrace upon any government that would uphold the system that tolerates them. One of these “retiring” gentlemen stated on the morning of the famed “digger-hunt” of the 30th November, in reply to one of the refractory diggers: “If you do not pay your licences, how are we to be supported at the Camp?” and further, “There are some disaffected scoundrels I am determine to arrest!” To crush! for what? For daring to refuse to pay taxes except they had a voice in the expending of them for the public weal; public taxes are public property. Some of these “gentlemanly” officials made use of language on the occasion alluded to, that not only gave evidence of considerable malignity, but of a vulgarity that a gentleman would scorn to use; and we think it not an unfair inference to draw from the foregoing facts, that the digger-hunt of the 30th of November, and the cruel slaughter of the 3rd December, were unmistakable acts of petty official revenge; and, therefore, instead of the diggers forestalling the Commission of Inquiry, appointed by His Excellency, we advisedly say it was Commissioner Rede and Co. who forestalled the inquiry by endeavouring to crush the “500 scoundrels” he complained of — a scoundrel in that gentleman’s estimation seems to be one who thinks that some £12 per head per annum is rather too heavy a tax for an Englishman to pay, especially if used in supporting men so unfit for office as he has proved himself to be. This gentleman was the arch-rioter of the 30th November; in this we are confirmed (if confirmation of well-known facts were needed) by the verdict of acquittal of the so called “Ballaarat Rioters,” partially on the evidence of Mr. Rede himself.
In the latter part of His Excellency’s reply, he very properly lays it down as “the duty of government to administer equal justice to all;” which is no doubt the noblest principle of the English constitution, and we certainly have no fears for the peace of even colonial society, with all its supposed discordant elements, so long as that principle is practically carried out; but we are under well founded apprehension if the reverse is to be the order of the day.
There is a paragraph in our petition to the effect, that if “His Excellency had found sufficient extenuation in the conduct of American citizens,” we thought there were equally good grounds for extending similar clemency to all, irrespective of nationality; and that it was unbecoming the dignity of any government to make such exceptions; and if such have been done (and that something tantamount to it has been done, there is ample proof), it is a violation of the very principle enunciated by His Excellency in his report viz., “That it is the duty of a government to administer equal justice to all.” What we contend for is this:— If it be just to grant an amnesty to a citizen of one country, ‘equal justice’ claims an amnesty for all. We wish it to be distinctly understood by our American friends, that we do not for a moment find fault with His Excellency for allowing their countrymen to go free, but we do complain, in sorrow, that he does not display the same liberality to others — that he does not wisely and magnanimously comply with the prayer of our petition by granting a general amnesty.
But it is stated further in the reply, that “no exception had been made in favour of any person against whom a charge was preferred.” With all becoming deference to His Excellency, we think this does not meet the point. If the gentleman were innocent, why guarantee him against arrest? And if his friends (and we give them credit for good tact) anticipated the “preferment of a charge,” it does not create any special grounds for an amnesty in contradistinction to a general amnesty.
Again, upon whom lies the onus of “preferring a charge?” £500 was offered for Vern, “DEAD OR ALIVE” and £400 for Lalor and Black; and yet we presume there was no charge, or charges, “preferred” against them any more than the gentleman alluded to. We yet trust that the same good feeling that induced His Excellency to give James M‘Gill his liberty will increase sufficiently strong to unbar the prison-doors, and set the state captives free, that they may be restored to their homes, their sorrowing families, and sympathising countrymen. By such an act, the Lieutenant-Governor will secure the peace of society, and the respect and support of the people, and be carrying out the glorious principle he has proclaimed of “Equal Justice to All.”
J. BASSON HUMFFRAY,}
C. F. NICHOLLS,} Of Ballaarat.
Melbourne, 23rd January, 1855.
Raffaello Carboni. The Eureka Stockade: The Consequence of Some Pirates Wanting on Quarter-Deck a Rebellion, Public Library of South Australia, Adelaide, 1962 [facsimile of the 1855 edition], pages 94-97
La Trobian idlers = a negative reference to officials of the government of Charles La Trobe, in colonial Victoria, as being idle or lazy
“Othello occupation” would indeed soon “be gone,” = a reference to the play “Othello”, by William Shakespeare (1564 BC – 1616 BC), in which Othello, a general in the Venetian army, believes that his wife was unfaithful to him, and subsequently loses interest in his livelihood and declares “Farewell! Othello’s occupation’s gone” (in Act 3, Scene 3); the use of the phrase “Othello’s occupation” is in reference to the military, who were used in the service of the government’s goldfields’ policies (hence Carboni says “the fault lies at the door of the government, in prostituting the military, by making them tax collectors, and placing them at the disposal of a few vain officials”)
*petite, sed non accipietis, quia petistis = (Latin) “you ask, but you will not receive, because you desired” (*rough translation); from James 4:3 in the Latin Bible, “petitis, et non accipitis, eo quod male petatis” (“you ask and receive not, because you ask amiss”, or “you ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives”)
“Othello: Act 3, Scene 3”, Shakespeare Navigators (accessed 31 January 2013)
“Othello’s Self Esteem”, Shakespeare Navigators (accessed 31 January 2013)
“Shakespeare Quotes: Pomp and circumstance”, E Notes (accessed 31 January 2013)
“Othello (character)”, Wikipedia (accessed 31 January 2013)
petite, sed non accipietis, quia petistis:
“James 4”, New Advent (accessed 14 January 2013)
“James 4:3”, Online Multilingual Bible (accessed 14 January 2013)
“James 4:3 : Douay-Rheims Bible parallel: Christian Community, New Jerusalem, Clementine Latin Vulgate, Biblia Sacra Vulgatam”, Veritas Bible (accessed 14 January 2013)
[Editor: Corrected “Othello” occupation” to “Othello occupation”.]